updated 06/18/2012 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 06/18/2012 AT 2:15 PM ET
In Rielle Hunter’s new memoir What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter and Me – out June 26 and excerpted exclusively in the upcoming issue of PEOPLE – Hunter reveals for the first time the full story of her affair with John Edwards, excruciating new details about his wife Elizabeth’s wrath upon her discovery of their relationship, and what kind of father Edwards is to their little girl, Quinn, 4.
Hunter’s book begins with their now-famous first encounter in Feb. 2006, when she glimpsed Edwards at New York’s Regency Bar and declared, “You’re so hot.” But her chronicle reveals much more about their passionate romance and, explosively, his revelation that she was not his first mistress, despite his 32-year marriage to Elizabeth.
As she explains in her book, “He told me that he had an entire hidden life that had gone on for decades and that he was currently involved with three different women. One lived in Los Angeles, one in Florida and one in Chicago. Clearly this behavior of his was not going to change overnight.”
‘Elizabeth Grew Increasingly Suspicious’
Hunter spent the night at his hotel and they began their affair. “We were like a pair of teenagers,” she writes, “completely attached.” She claims that she never felt Elizabeth was an “innocent victim” and describes how John’s wife grew increasingly suspicious as Hunter followed Edwards around on the campaign trail.
Edwards, she writes, told her that he and Elizabeth would have marathon fights and that the marriage had been in trouble for many years, “filled with issues that clearly neither Johnny nor Elizabeth wanted to address. They did not want to disclose the truth to themselves, much less the public.”
About the man she calls “Johnny,” she writes, “I really don’t believe his lying about women was malicious. He used it as a defense to keep real feelings at bay.”
Hunter, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., with their daughter Quinn whom she co-parents with Edwards (who lives two hours away, in Raleigh-Durham), says their relationship has changed over the years.
“It’s better and more complicated at the same time,” she says. “I have a deeper understanding of him as a dad and as person who puts his children first. And I believe he has more respect and deeper appreciation of me now.”
For the full exclusive excerpt – along with revelations about Hunter and Edwards’s relationship now, as well as new pictures of the family – pick up next week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday